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Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cottleston Pie, M.Ed. Grad School Update #2

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director

The first month of graduate school has gone quickly, just as I suspected.  See the first post explaining all this here.  I’ve gotten very used to all the twists and turns on Hwy 20 (and can tell you that Cascadian Farms is closing after Nov 2!), but I’ve also figured out how to print documents at the library (an undergrad had to teach me), taken a city bus to campus (this is a big deal for me!), and taken advantage of all the recreational fees I’m required to pay by lap swimming in the wonderfully large indoor pool on campus (first lap swim in about 14 years).  This is all along with all my schooling of course.

The first three classes within the Masters of Education in Environmental Education program involve a lot of reading and discussion, to the point that I feel like most days are formalized book clubs, but there is also a lot of useful overlap in the classes and a lot of self-reflection, self-inquiry and self-direction, to the point that I also feel like I’m going to counseling session (both in my head and in group therapy).  One could wonder if it’s worth the money to attend advanced book clubs/therapy sessions, but so far I would give it an enthusiastic “Yes!” though I know there is still a lot of difficult work ahead of me.  Someone told me a couple of weeks ago that going to graduate school is giving a gift to yourself.  The sentiment didn’t fully soak in at the time, but I totally get it now.  I am pampering myself with the time and space to explore, learn, express, discover, understand and grow, about myself and about how I want to use what I learn and how I grow.  I am extremely grateful to the Methow Conservancy for allowing me to do this.   

While I have done and read many things in the past month, I wanted to share something specific to give you a glimpse into my grad school work.  Here’s a portion of a 7-page paper I wrote that was a discourse analysis of a book that was foundational to me in my youth.  I choose "The Tao of Pooh."

As one might suspect "The Tao of Pooh" uses Winnie-the-Pooh and his cast of friends as a way to explain the philosophy and primarily tenets of Taoism (aka Daoism).  Pooh is the embodiment of Taoism according to the author Benjamin Hoff. 

Cottleston Pie
This was the longest chapter in the book and I think it was my favorite. And though it was longer than the other chapters, it had clear, easy to understand points, namely: we all have a unique Inner Nature; know and trust yourself; things are as they are; accept your limitations; we don’t have to know and understand everything; and, self-reliance starts with all of this.

Cottleston Pie is one of Pooh’s songs that Hoff uses to highlight Taoist principles.  One part of the song says, “A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.”  This notion is one all of us understand - you can’t put a square peg in a round hole.  How do we apply this to our lives and values, behaviors and attitudes?  Hoff says, “…things are as they are…everything has its own place and function…”  This applies to people and our world of nature and things.  A key piece of the book for me is the statement, “When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong.”

Next, the song says, “A fish can’t whistle and neither can I,” which Hoff kindly explains as “I have certain limitations and I know what they are.”  This is a bit like the “make lemonade out of lemons” saying in that Hoff says this principle isn’t about throwing your hands up at your weaknesses but, first, recognizing them, and second, understanding them so that you can perhaps use them to your advantage or even turn them into strengths.  This part of the Cottleston Pie chapter was not my favorite part.  It felt like a motherly know-it-all telling me that I can’t use the word “can’t.”  But, this is all part of the big Cottleston Pie picture. 

The final verse in the song is, “Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.”  It means, “We Don’t Know!”  I love this because it says, stop trying to figure all this out; we don’t know and we don’t need to know.  Hoff says all we really need to do is “recognize Inner Nature and work with Things As They Are.” (Cottleston Pie stands for Inner Nature)

A lack of Inner Nature speaks to what has happened to so many of us and what I think is one of the core reasons humans have caused so much damage to each other and to our planet.  Hoff writes, “Unlike other forms of life, though, people are easily led away from what’s right for them, because people have Brain, and Brain can be fooled. Inner Nature, when relied on, cannot be fooled. But many people do not look at it or listen to it, and consequently do not understand themselves very much. Having little understanding of themselves, they have little respect for themselves, and are therefore easily influenced by others.”  I think this speaks volumes and, unfortunately, probably characterizes most of us to some degree.  Are any of us really content with (let alone fully aware of) our true self? Aren’t most of us trying to be who we think we should be or who others think we should be?  We let people (and definitely the media and the capitalist system, which could be a whole other paper) make us feel unimportant, small and unworthy.

Wrapping up Hoff says, “The Way of Self-Reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we've got to work with, and what works best for us.”  Being self-sufficient is a very important thing for me - something I’ve worked consciously and specifically towards for the last 10 years - but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never thought about it in quite these terms.  Basically, self-reliance starts with who I am, not with what I can (grow food) or can’t (build a house) do. 

Near the end of the book, Hoff says that Tz’u, which is “caring” or “compassion,” is one of the greatest things we can have and do.  From caring comes courage and wisdom.  He talks about living lives of desperation and clinging to hollow substitutes and it made me think of something I constantly remind myself of - that we are all struggling to understand “what’s it all about?” whether we know it or not, and that we need to be more compassionate with ourselves and others.  It’s the first step, as Hoff says, to “setting ourselves free.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Learning & Growing with an M.Ed., Update #1

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director

I can’t exactly tell you what compelled me to apply to graduate school last winter and actually go through with it this fall except that lifelong learning is an important part of my life and is one of the things that best helps me contribute to others, through my work at the Methow Conservancy as well as personally. 

I admit I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into, and it’s sort of crazy and not exactly easy to go back to school at the age of 40 when I have a perfectly fine job and a perfectly full life already!

On Sept 24, 2014, I began a weekly commute to Bellingham to participate in the Masters of Education in Environmental Education degree program at Huxley College at Western Washington University.  Fortunately (and the only reason I even considered applying), this program is set-up relatively well for working professionals in that one only has to do two 10-week quarters on campus, which I’ll do this fall and winter, and then the rest of the program is independent, including the Masters thesis or project, and will be done in the Methow and in-conjunction, as much as possible at least, with the Methow Conservancy.

Rest assured, I’m not leaving the Methow Conservancy or the Methow, I’m just a “part-timer” for about six months.  Like many of you, I’ll be checking the Methow weather and web cams and missing great events that happen mid-week, and living for the weekends when I can drive over and get my Methow fix. 

For those of you who want the logistical details, for this fall quarter which ends Dec 5, I drive over on Monday mornings and return to the Methow on Friday afternoons.  I continue to do Conservancy work everyday remotely, and then more on the weekends in the office and in the field.  The public shouldn’t notice any difference.  You’ll even probably see me at First Tuesdays!  I get a month off between Dec 6 and Jan 6 and then start the winter quarter which runs through mid-March.  For that quarter, I’ll drive over on Sunday afternoons (yes, the long way around) and return to the Methow on Wednesday afternoons.

So far, the classes and coursework, and my instructors and classmates, are interesting and engaging.  I’m really enjoying all of it, though I’ve never forced myself to read so much in my life!  It’s a little weird to be spending the bulk of your days reading, thinking and discussing, and not really “doing,” but as a practitioner of environmental/natural history/conservation/sustainability/stewardship…education I think an overall goal is to use the dedicated thinking/reading/discussing time to grow and learn so that when I get back to “doing” I will have a stronger foundation for it, and hopefully be more skilled and suited for it.

Here’s a little bit about this fall’s campus-based courses:
ENVS 585 Environmental Education Foundations, Dr. Nick Stanger
This class is taught outdoors, rain or shine.  It employs a lot of self-reflection and “Transformative Inquiry” to help us discover our own EE foundations and envision our future as practitioners of EE. 

ENVS 587 Conservation Psychology, Dr. Gene Myers
This class is about the human mind, emotion, behavior patterns, language, social patterns, biases, and so on.  One goal of the class is to better understanding how people think about, feel about, benefit from, experience, and relate/connect to nature, and what inspires or inhibits conservation action.

ENVS 501 Research & Projects in Environmental Studies, Dr. David Rossiter
This class is primarily a seminar involving significant reading and discussing.  It looks at the current trends in and historical contexts of environmental studies from a wide variety of historical and modern practitioners, with the goal of giving us a broader context of human-environment studies.

I had to write down some of my goals/expectations for this program.  Here’s what I said, in no particular order:
  • I should be changed for the better through this program. Maybe this is not entirely something I can measured but I believe it will be something I can sense.
  • I will go through each class with a high degree of respect and trust for what instructors are asking us to do and for the work I do, as well as some degree of humility, humor, self-respect and joy. I will try to honor myself and my work, as well as my instructors and my fellow students.
  • I will bring all my values - about the natural world, doing what is right for each of us, conservation and environmental issues, community, global issues and the need for huge changes/transitions (David Orr says, “...we continue to educate and the young... as if there were no planetary emergency.”) - with me when I read and think for each class, discuss in class, and attend.
  • I will try to integrate what I’m reading, thinking about and learning in all my EE classes so that I have a cohesive understanding of what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. These classes taken together as a whole should be greater than the sum of their parts when the quarter is finished.
  • I will try to determine what is important and relevant in what I read, think about, discuss and do in these classes and apply those things to my life and work, both professionally and personally.
  • I expect to be intellectually challenged and stimulated, and to enjoy myself and the classes.

IF YOU HAVE CONNECTIONS IN BELLINGHAM, I'm searching for a place(s) to stay mid-week from Nov 3 - Dec 5 and Jan 6 - March 15!  An unoccupied house, or a small private self-contained apartment/room is ideal, and I'm happy to move around if places are only available some of the time I need lodging.  Free to cheap is also ideal but may not be practical I know.  I can provide more details if you have any ideas.  Email me at